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Weekly Links #315: Reviving Ramus edition

12 April 2020 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! I set aside one interactive fiction tool for the moment to work on another. Except the Ramus hypertext system isn't new; its first release was in 2011, fully nine years ago! At the time, various factors caused me to abandon it much too early, which was a shame because people had actually used it...

Well, now it's back, better than ever, and this time I plan to keep at it.

Like with so many other things, to write version 2.0 from scratch I needed one afternoon; what took years was the learning process. Barring a longer analysis, here's a few hints:

  • even tiny Javascript libraries of the sort listed at microjs.com are dangerous dependencies unless you're willing to take over maintenance yourself;
  • modern web standards are flexible; you don't need to invent your own tags and attributes, or twist them to the point of breaking to use them in novel ways;
  • for that matter, web browsers have all kinds of neat stuff built in; even smooth scrolling has been available in some browsers for maybe five years now.

A black box you can only drop into your project untouched isn't code reuse.

Come to think of it, that might as well be the motto of Ramus going forward. I now call it a template, and that changed my entire attitude towards the project. Just like that, I have a roadmap, with clear signposts along the way. Ride on.

The bad news is, no other topical news caught my eye this week, so the Weekly Links end here for now. See you next time!

Tags: interactive-fiction, tools, programming

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Weekly Links #314

05 April 2020 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! The big news this week is of course Tee-Wee Editor reaching version 1.0:

To discuss an obvious change: the user interface now sports a second toolbar; I tweaked the widget layout to account for it. Makes the user interface kind of busy, which is reason enough to refrain from adding much more. Beware, young programmer: people always ask for features they don't really need. But any new feature is a burden not just on you, but them as well. Makes it that much harder to spot the stuff you actually need and then click on it. That's why people are desperate for simple software in an era when even command-line tools suffer from way too much complexity.

Three times now Tee-Wee has been praised for being much more accessible than its older cousin. Which in turn is much simpler than some of the competition.

Weren't these authoring tools supposed to let anyone make games?

In the way of news, this edition we have an interview with Jon Ingold and a retrospective of The 7th Guest, in addition to my own detailed release announcement from Itch. Details under the cut.

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Tags: interactive-fiction, interview, writing, tools, classics, adventure

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Weekly Links #313

29 March 2020 — No Time To Play

Life is funny sometimes. On Friday, I had resigned myself to postponing the first release of Tee-Wee Editor. Then it turned out that remaining issues were small enough to fix on Saturday morning, with an afternoon left to throw together a homepage. You can find it at the link above, with more details about the project and this alpha release than I can fit here. Let me point out something else instead.

Quite simply, Twine isn't nearly as well-known as it might seem from the ruffled feathers it caused in the interactive fiction community. Again and again while working on this project, I found myself having to tell people what it is. Some of them have at least heard of CYOA. Others still need the acronym expanded.

Guess that explains why my interactive fiction has been consistently the least popular stuff I have on Itch.io, forcing me to remove promising creations again and again. Simply put, the genre never ceased being a niche, despite the success of high-profile games like Fallen London and 80 Days. Meanwhile, everyone's heard of roguelikes, a much more esoteric genre. Go figure.

Dear interactive fiction enthusiasts: are you content with it being the literary fiction and poetry of gameing?

In the way of news, this week we have a history of multiplayer roguelikes, that warranted ample commentary, and then a couple of classic game retrospectives. Details under the cut.

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Tags: interactive-fiction, tools, roguelike, retrogaming, classics

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Weekly Links #312

22 March 2020 — No Time To Play

Call me flighty, but I switched tracks again this week.

In my defense, the game port I described last newsletter was a stop-gap project, meant to fill the time until something better came along. Well, something did. First published a few months ago by the IFTF, the official Twine specifications were recently finalized. It took a while longer for an idea to crystallize in my mind. This is the result:

Screenshot from a desktop text editor with a list down the left side, showing a passage from some sort of gamebook.

This is about as simple as it gets, yet it's perfectly capable of working with the story data generated by Twine. Not as friendly as the official IDE, but a lot more so than compiling source code with Tweego from the command line. And unlike either of those, Tee-Wee Editor makes authors remember to pick a story format. Currently, most people have no clue that's a thing they can do, and that causes all kinds of issues.

Besides, think of all the obscure authoring systems that could easily be implemented as story formats for Twine and compatible tools, thus becoming part of a vibrant ecosystem. It only takes awareness, and my little toy can help with that.

In the way of news, this week we're looking at one company trying to capitalize on current events in a rather transparent way, then a good handful of links with no comment. Details under the cut.

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Tags: interactive-fiction, tools, business, adventure, history, roguelike

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Weekly Links #308

23 February 2020 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! This is another edition where I'll be talking more about plans than results. The promised Tkinter port of Glittering Light 2 is likely to take another week, and I don't even have an interesting screenshot. I'll be done just in time to watch the 7DRL, which was the plan all along. One must make some time to play now and then, you know.

In the way of plans, I'll probably spend the spring building up a scaffolding for Electric Rogue 2, to be completed in autumn. It worked great for the first game, and will also leave me time to prepare the new book. Might even manage to squeeze in another EightWay Engine demo featuring a trick I haven't shown off yet.

Meanwhile, it turns out I have even more to say about game genres. It seems to be a leitmotif of 2020 already, which is fine with me. Writing is easier when you have a guiding line. I've also been doing more work on the website, mostly shuffling old links around. Anything more would require some serious restructuring, and I just got it into shape. The trick is finding a way to organize ten years' worth of material such that it doesn't become overwhelming. And that requires careful thinking.

As for the news, this week we have a cursory look at SFML, and three headlines with little commentary, but still very much worth reading. Details under the cut.

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Tags: tools, graphics, retrogaming, game-design, representation

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Weekly Links #289

29 September 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! Thanks to a generous donation by my friend WereWolf, the hosting costs for No Time To Play are covered until next summer. So I can stop pestering you for a while. Any extra funds received will still be appreciated, of course.

In other news, due to recent developments I'm finally in a position to offer 64-bit Linux builds for my games. Currently, Escape From Cnossus HD is available in the new edition, both on No Time To Play and on Itch. Where, it turns out, I had never uploaded the latest builds from this summer. Oh well, better late than never.

On the minus side, I'll be less able to support the 32-bit editions going forward, especially for Windows. No reason to take them down, of course, you'll just be on your own with them. Oh, and I took the game entirely off Game Jolt, along with most of my titles from this year. They're just not moving. I'm not sure what to even offer the kind of people who go there to play.

Oh, I do have new games planned, and improvements to existing games, and articles to write... so much to do, so little energy. Should be more able to work on them in October, but how fast is another question entirely. Especially as I'm forced to make some changes in my workflow, and the kinds of things I can work on. Will let you know.

Anyway, for news this week we have changes coming to the event known as PROCJAM, words about the future of Ren'Py, and some philosophical considerations about Doom 2. Details under the cut.

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Tags: community, tools, classics, shooter, game-design, philosophy

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Weekly Links #276: archival edition

12 September 2019 — No Time To Play

We're halfway through 2019, in more than one way, and I wish there were more news to mark the moment. Well, the kind that warrants a comment anyway. Stuff keeps happening, of course, but when it's not about mainstream gameing, then it must be about often rehashed themes. Maybe I need some new sources of information. Hard to find one that's genuinely different, however, without going into obscure niches.

(To be honest, working on an unrelated website also distracted me from games. Well, partly unrelated. I keep my tabletop RPG and interactive fiction work elsewhere because, well, not sure why. Went back and forth over it many times.)

As of this week, the source code for Keep of the Mad Wizard is also available from the IFArchive. Hopefully this will benefit someone; not many people choose to share theirs in the same way. Guess one can always re-import a published game, but it's not the same thing when the original was written for Tweego and not Twine proper. Besides, this makes my intent explicit. And not many Twine games seem to use status bars, let alone RPG features.

Last but not least, I can scarcely imagine a more reliable backup. IFArchive rocks!

In the way of news, this week we have a write-up about tool reuse in games, even between very different genres, then another large archive of historical documents from the world of interactive fiction, and last an account of how No Time To Play is doing financially. Details after the cut.

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Tags: rpg, tools, history, interactive-fiction, preservation

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Weekly Links #284

25 August 2019 — No Time To Play

Talk about pent-up creativity. After the successful relaunch of ASCII Mapper, it was time to also pick up the project that made it necessary in the first place. And when I did, it took me just five days to reach this point:

(Screenshot showing four wide corridors made of glowing columns that intersect at a fountain of light. On either side of the viewport are touchscreen controls.)

That was while going through another tech demo, by the way. Which in turn required the use of a map editor, thus validating my decision to do things in this order.

Either way, I have an engine! And a new kind of in-engine editor to go with it as well. Both have been giving me new insights into the best ways to use them, and now I'm bubbling with ideas again. For now however enjoy Make-a-Maze. You can find it either on Itch.io or on Game Jolt. Updates to follow soon!

In the way of news, this week we have word from the world of interactive fiction, a few thoughts on game graphics, and a couple of links with little comment. Details after the cut.

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Tags: tools, interactive-fiction, graphics

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Weekly Links #283

18 August 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! Those of my readers who also follow me on Mastodon already know this, but for everyone else I have a surprise: as of this week, ASCII Mapper has a desktop edition, as originally planned 20 months ago. There was no time for a proper write-up before the soft launch last evening, so for now let's just say it looks like this:

(Screenshot of a desktop application showing a network of pathways drawn in ASCII art, and assorted controls.)

and already has more features than the original web edition. More details coming soon; in the mean time, you can also get it on Itch.io and on GitHub. Development will continue as time allows.

In the way of news, this week we have a discussion of politics in games, a retrospecive of Pac-Mania, and words from the world of interactive fiction. Details after the cut.

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Tags: tools, politics, retrogaming, game-design, interactive-fiction

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Weekly Links #257

17 February 2019 — No Time To Play

This week is starting out strong for a change. On Sunday was published an interview with Felipe Pepe of The CRPG Book Project fame (via K.D.). And on Monday we got an article about Sega's Super Scaler technology, that powered so many arcade classics. I've only played OutRun and AfterBurner II out of them, and my favorite 2.5D game isn't among them, but I'm still in love with the style, and even created my own graphics engine to keep it alive.

Also on Monday, an indie creator shares his first year of game development in words and screenshots, and it sounds like an amazing journey. People get up to speed damn fast these days.

A much bigger story emerged as the week went on, extensively covered by numerous sources: that of Activision firing 800 Blizzard employees despite Blizzard making record profits in 2018, just because those profits were a little bit below expectations. Never mind the sheer callousness of the decision, and the way it was handled. Never mind the "I told you so". Right now I'd love to hear from those people who insist that without the big publishers we wouldn't have seen a lot of great games that made history. Tell me, how many more great games we could have seen from Blizzard, and now we never will because their corporate owner is forcing them to focus on milking cash cows instead of, ya'know, continuing to innovate?

Enjoy your capitalism. I'll be over there playing little indie games made with PICO-8.

Speaking of which: just last week I was reviewing a new fantasy console. Soon after, a post on the PICO-8 forum reminded me of this big list on GitHub. And you know... that's kind of cool actually. Making a new fantasy console has turned into a sort of hobby. One I get all too well, having created several authoring systems for interactive fiction that hardly saw any use. But at least each of mine has a unique gimmick I can explain easily. Whereas with most fantasy consoles, there's no obvious reason to use one over the others.

Which, of course, is a valuable insight in itself. Cheers!

Tags: retrogaming, arcade, rpg, interview, business, tools

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Weekly Links #258: impatient learner edition

24 February 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, and welcome to my weekly gamedev newsletter. This Sunday I'm a little short on news again. Between finishing up another interpreter, and writing a piece of flash fiction, not many news managed to hold my attention. Might as well take the time to write about an issue I've been noticing lately.

Look, we all have to start somewhere, and in the beginning it's normal to trip and stumble a lot. So when you know you're still learning? Maybe don't rush. Lately I see people trying to get started making games with Pygame who clearly haven't yet mastered, not just Python, but elementary programming concepts like loops and lists. And they don't seem to take the hint when gently pointed in that direction.

And you know what? I've been through the "gonna make the ultimate MMORPG" stage. It never went anywhere either, of course. But that was after 8-9 years of programming as a hobby, and another 3 or 4 profesionally. At least I had a reason to be overconfident. And a team of friends with similar or better skill level.

Kids are growing up so fast these days. With that however seems to come a degree of impatience. Which isn't helped by "easy" tools like Scratch, which do nothing but sweep complexity under the rug. At least Love2D won't let you forget there's a game loop behind the scenes, even if it's normally hidden from sight and not under your control. Even better, you can pop the hood open and fiddle with it if you know what you're doing.

Back in my day, the entire computer was like that. You wanted a loop? You'd use a GO TO. Keeping track of multiple sprites? Use an array of X and Y coordinates. It was damn hard. I wouldn't go back for anything but the simplest games. (There's a reason shoot'em ups were so popular in the 1980s.) But the moment when I got a friend's explanation that the complex clockwork movement of a game like Dizzy resulted from every single sprite being updated little by little in turn, while music played one note at a time?

That flash of revelation is going to stay with me until death. And this level of understanding makes all the difference.

In the way of extended news, we have a new tool for retrogaming enthusiasts, and advice for launching a career in games writing. Details after the cut.

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Tags: retrogaming, tools, personal, philosophy

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Weekly Links #256

10 February 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone. Some weeks I get so caught up in a project or other that it leaves me little attention to spare for gaming news worth commenting on. This time it was the interpreter architecture mentioned last week. Figured I'd give it a good workout, you see, and work out it did, a lot better than expected. As of this writing I'm on the way to releasing a real-world, if not very useful, version. People are already interested in the online preview, so my hopes are high for once. And damn if it doesn't feel good to have a scripting language that can be ported to a new platform literally in hours, even as it's grown enough to not really be a toy anymore.

In the way of news, I hear the big publishers are all complaining about a terrible 2018, financially speaking. By which they mean profits are a few percent below their unreasonable expectations, so they're firing hundreds of people to keep the obscene bonuses of CEOs intact. Cue a "meanwhile, in Japan" moment: it was just last month, if memory serves, that Nintendo management cut their own wages in half so they'd have enough to keep paying their employees. Again.

That's why they continue to be so successful, folks: for all their sins, Nintendo is a humane business, and it shows in everything they do. Including games.

One other topic this week: at the very last moment, fluffy alerts me of a new game development tool called Môsi. It's inspired by Bitsy, except with a lot more features and designed for making games on a smartphone.

Or so it's supposed to; on mobile Chrome all I got was a blank screen. On desktop I can play the example, and browse through the various editor tabs, though actually editing sprites and rooms doesn't work in either Opera or Firefox. Oh well, Môsi is in early development. And there's quite a bit to look at: you can choose the size of your game world, that of a screen, a sprite, and even how many colors your game will have. Sprites can have multiple animation frames, and rich interactions are possible, including branching and looping. In other words... programming (cue finger wiggling), though it's all visual.

Not much more to say about it at this point, but this right here is a thing to watch closely. Could easily take off in a big way. And did I mention it's open source?

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the Sunday!

Tags: tools, programming, business

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Weekly Links #252

13 January 2019 — No Time To Play

Hello, everyone! As gaming news worthy of attention are fashionably late this week, I took the time to write an article about alternate uses for gamedev tools. It concludes my year-long exploration of this particular topic, at least for now. Not that I'll stop working on my own tools, or finding cool new uses for them. The focus will simply be on other things. And hey, that's a good season finale, that foreshadows the next one like it's supposed to.

In the way of news, on Wednesday, PCGamer posts a fascinating insight into how the Infinity Engine was made. And on Thursday we have a couple of game development blog posts worth mentioning:

  • First, a look at the virtual city of Rubacava. For those who can't place it instantly, that's from Grim Fandango, one of the most famous graphical adventures ever made. Not much to say there, Konstantinos Dimopoulos knocks it out of the park as usual. I'll just add that cities are dear to my heart, most of my own fiction (less so my games) taking place in one, and even though I only know Rubacava from the game's novelization, it's still a special place.
  • Then, musings on designing the user interface of a sci-fi business simulator. Note how many examples they took inspiration from, some fictional, others very much real. If only designers of practical software did the same, because Prosperous Universe sounds like a game to watch closely.

Last but not least, Anatoly Shashkin points out that a history of Ocean Software from a few years ago was just released for free on the Internet Archive. Unfortunately all the download options are gigantic. Can't tell you much about files I can't actually open on my computer. But if you have a beefier machine, knowing how 8-bit pioneers did their great work is probably worth the trouble.

Enjoy, and see you next week.

Tags: news, tools, rpg

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New beginnings

01 January 2019 — No Time To Play

Happy New Year, dear readers. If you can read this, the No Time To Play blog has come home at last. Even more, it's now future-proof. Well, not as much as I'd like. This format will have to be revisited again in five year's time. But you know what? By that point, this site will have been online for fifteen! If it's still around then, having to reboot the blog again will be the least of my worries.

As part of this renewal, I'll make a deliberate effort to talk about No Time To Play in the singular. It's been just me for years, after all, apart from Nightwrath's moral support (and occasional link to comment on), and Kelketek's contributed article from... yikes, 11 months ago already. Might as well make it more personal.

What to write about in 2019 is the thorny question. At the beginning of last year, I set myself game-making tools as the topic of choice. That worked, after a fashion, but for my failure to reach a satisfying conclusion. Gonna have to do that before moving on. And then... what?

Suggestions are welcome. It's just that we'll have to talk on social media somewhere. Sorry about that. Can't have them all.

Well, there is something. After a string of disappointing releases, I spent the past few months trying to rekindle my interest in making games. And you know what? That was the entirely wrong way to look at things. Some of my best work in recent years, as measured by audience interest, has been little interactive toys that are only tangentially game-related. A tabletop RPG sourcebook in Twine format. An unfinished walking simulator. A low-tech graphics engine and suite of tools.

Earlier in autumn I expressed the opinion that maybe we should stop thinking in terms of game design. Writers don't think in terms of "novella design". They think of what they have to say. Let's go one step further and stop thinking in terms of games. Interactivity itself is a medium; let's see what we can express with it that we can't in any other way.

It doesn't have to be a contest. It doesn't have to be a product. Or even art.

Let's make nice things that bring people joy. We can sort them out later.

Tags: meta, personal, tools, interaction, philosophy

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